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‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Over the years, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to celebrities and stars from across the world as the Kingdom made its presence known in the global entertainment space. Here are 10 superstars who have visited Riyadh and were left in awe of the Saudi capital.

Sofia Vergara

The US-Colombian actress, most famous for her role in “Modern Family,” is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and also brought her trademark glamor to a promotional video for the VIA Riyadh luxury destination in the Saudi capital earlier this year.

She also dazzled on the red carpet of the 2023 Joy Awards in Riyadh in January. “I would like to dedicate the award to all the amazing women in the Kingdom and to all the women in the Middle East who are building a better future for all the women. Your dreams can come true, and they will if you use the two most important things: your mind and your culture,” Vergara said after accepting the Personality of the Year Award.

Lionel Messi

While there has been an influx of international football stars joining the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation — who plays for Inter Miami — visited Riyadh this summer, along with his wife and kids, for a sightseeing trip.

“The best thing about holidays is spending quality time with our loved ones,” he wrote to his 480 million followers on Instagram. “Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, playing local games and making crafts with the warmest Saudi people.”

“If you are still planning your holidays, head to the cool mountains of (Asir) and chill at 17°C degrees,” he advised his fans.

The pictures feature the footballer playing with his sons and wife Antonella Roccuzzo.

He also shared an image of the picturesque mountains of Asir.

Messi visited the Kingdom in May and went to At-Turaif, the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and also explored some of Riyadh’s more contemporary attractions.

He also went on a guided tour in Diriyah and dined out at Al-Bujairi Terrace.

Jason Momoa

Back in 2017, “Game of Thrones” and “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa visited Saudi Arabia as part of the pop-culture convention Comic Con Arabia.

“The food in Saudi Arabia is good. I missed Thanksgiving at home, so this was a true substitute,” he told Arab News.

Mada Abdelhamid, WWE star and Momoa’s trainer, posted a photo of himself and Momoa on Instagram, posing in front of a huge plate of traditional Saudi delicacies kabsa and mansaf.

“The before and after. Now this is what I call a FEAST!!!!! Eating like kings over here in Saudi Arabia. We literally couldn’t move afterwards … but we couldn’t stop eating either. Very fitting that we were over here during Thanksgiving. Our stomachs felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa also took to social media to write about his experience visiting Riyadh’s iconic Najd Village: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia you treated me like royalty. Aloha to the fans and new friends. I had so many amazing experiences. I’ll be back very soon. Mahalo omar for fattening me up, the food here is amazing @najdvillagesa aloha j,” he wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thanks (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumamah National Park during the same visit.

Steve Aoki

US-Japanese DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the MDLBEAST music festival in Riyadh in 2019 with a special remix of tunes by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu.

“I love collaborating across cultures, it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Aoki told Arab News at the time.

Aoki, who also performed earlier that year at Jeddah World Fest, said he “loves” the people of Saudi Arabia and that he did not realize he had a huge fan base in the Kingdom.

“It is surprising and incredible … to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia … everyone is so loving and so kind. They are just beautiful people,” he said, adding that he was keen to return to the country for future performances.

“The people want it. You feel the energy in the crowd, they want this kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki also recently performed in Riyadh for a Gamers8 concert and gushed about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi crowd. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I did Jeddah, I did MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi crowd, they’re full of life. They’re an explosion of energy and passion and excitement. And this is what an artist dreams to have… For fans to really express themselves,” he said.

DJ Khaled

Renowned artist and producer DJ Khaled made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh in December 2022, ahead of his headlining performance at the region’s largest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM.

Coming to the region for the first time, his experience of the culture and people was unlike any other, he said. The quality of life and overarching excitement appealed to the artist. “When we were driving over here and I was looking around, I put my head out the window and somebody screamed ‘Khaled!’ and I appreciate the love, and I said ‘Joe, man, people here are just happy,’” he told Arab News.

Katie Holmes

The popular US actress visited the Kingdom on a trip with British actor Idris Elba and retired French footballer Thierry Henry in 2018.

Holmes took to social media to share several snaps from her trip to Riyadh, waxing lyrical about the architecture in a caption for one photograph, and revealing, for another image, that she was “so grateful for this amazing and inspiring time.” During her visit, Holmes also had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, along with Elba and Henry.

She also opened up about her trip, saying the country was “so beautiful.” “It was a long trip, but I really enjoyed it. I love the women that I met.” 

“It was really inspiring to see these women enjoying the new freedoms they now have and there is a sense of creativity that is happening,” she added.

John Travolta

US actor John Travolta, best known for his starring roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” made his first-ever appearance in Saudi Arabia in 2017 to discuss his career, during a two-day gala event.

Travolta answered questions from fans in the Saudi capital. “I have been completely touched by the warmth and embracing nature of everyone since I’ve arrived,” said the actor at the event titled, “A Night with Travolta,” organized by the Saudi Entertainment Authority.

Jackie Chan

The celebrated actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award, and said that he was looking forward to filming movies in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s my first time in Saudi, and I know it’s a big country. After only a few hours (travelling) here and looking at locations I know there’s a good place for car chasing, explosions, action; so, next time, I hope to come back with my crew,” Chan said.

The movie legend — who also visited Jeddah for the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022 — thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country, and expressed hopes the Kingdom would become a leading center of regional film and television production.

 

Shah Rukh Khan

The Bollywood superstar — who most recently shot his upcoming film “Dunki” in Saudi Arabia — visited the Kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award.

“We have been talking about the hospitality, the warmth, the goodness and the love that has been showered upon us … and for most of us, it’s our first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi,” Khan said at the event.

“Inshallah, we all wait with bated breath because cinema has opened up here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we as the world look forward to being of help in any which way we can be of help.”

Idris Elba

The British actor — known for his roles in “Luther” and “The Wire” — first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018 to speak at the launch of the $35 billion “Quality of Life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives.

“Saudi Arabia gave me an opportunity to make my film here. It made sense on an economical model,” Elba said at the event. “I would definitely be here — why not?”

“Saudi Arabia has an awesome opportunity to spread its culture through filmmaking,” he added.

The actor also reflected on his time in Saudi Arabia later in a podcast.

“I found Saudi was warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest,” the actor said during the inaugural episode of a talk show produced by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra.

He went on to explain that it was, “surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi.”

Naomi Campbell

British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, appearing at several events including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” in Riyadh. 

“I had to actually pinch myself and say I am in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, the first one ever, this historical event,” said Campbell at the time.

“It’s really about the change that’s happening around the world. I have been doing this for 35 years and I am really honored and happy to be here, still, in the business … and to see the change.”

During the fashion panel in Riyadh, the model discussed her love of humanitarian work, which began in 1993 in Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the resulting cultural influences she has experienced.

“There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” she said. “There are so many similarities and I really believe that Africa can teach the Middle East (about) textile and the Middle East can teach artisan work to Africa.”



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